Three stories of camping, hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, and rock climbing—all crammed into a busted down historic building in downtown Portland. Sort of like a Powell’s books for lovers of the Northwest outdoors.
I hadn’t been in for a while, so while downtown recently, my wife and I decided to jump inside and see the latest in excellent and affordable gear. The top floor had always been our favorite: a huge selection of tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, and all the cooking and packing gear you could imagine. Seems like every time we went in, we’d find something we really needed for an unbelievable deal: snowshoes for $90, a Gregory multi-day pack on sale for $125, a killer pair of gore-tex full boots for $100.
But what was this? The top floor turned into a skate shop? And not really a skate shop, but more a showcase of the latest skate-wear? Back down on the main floor we looked around, virtually everything on the floor had been moved out in favor of expensive clothing! A bit frantic at this point, we went to the lowest and final floor. Here at least was the last redoubt of US Outdoor’s outdoor gear. A small collection of bags and backpacks, a couple of tents. A quarter of the room is dedicated to shoes, most of which are various colors of Keens. Stuffed into the corner: a couple of ropes and some miscellaneous rock climbing gear.
I shed a tear for my beloved US Outdoor. I knew it would come, sooner or later, just as it does to all excellent gear outlets. It happened first to Eddie Bauer, which believe it or not used to sell both cheap and excellent outdoor clothing and gear. Somewhere in the 90’s it decided that there was no money in gear or in cheap clothing, so they decided to become the Gap’s little sister. Then it happened to REI. Once a manufacturer of some of the best (and most affordable) gear on the planet, it too embraced the siren call of Abercrombie and Fitch, becoming hip, trendy, and spendy. I have to wonder if any of the people who visit REI have ever gotten their boots muddy? Here closer to home, G. I. Joe’s gave up the reliable, rugged, and affordable a decade ago for the trendy and spendy; they also recently closed their doors forever.
I suppose I’ll have to start looking for somewhere to buy decent gear. Is it really that a business cannot be run on the premise of affordable outdoor adventure gear? I have money in my pocket, waiting to stumble into your store.